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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Wednesday, March 24, 2004


Commission and sheriff races contested

Michael, Thomas run unopposed

Express Staff Writer

Among the four seats up for grabs in Blaine County in this year’s primary and general elections, only two are contested.

Three-term incumbent county commissioner Mary Ann Mix, a Democrat, is challenged by former Blaine County Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Tom Bowman, also a Democrat. The primary contest is a rematch from the county’s 1996 primary election, when Mix beat her challenger by 224 votes.

Incumbent Blaine County Sheriff Walt Femling, a Republican, will face primary and general election contests with two Hailey police officers. Hailey Patrol Officer Steve England, a Republican, will face Femling in the primary election, and Hailey Police Lt. Jeff Gunter, a Democrat, will face the incumbent in November.

Blaine County Commissioner Sarah Michael and Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Thomas, both Democrats, are unchallenged. The filing deadline for prospective candidates was Friday, March 19.

On the commission, Michael is up for a two-year term, and Mix and Bowman are each running for a four-year post. The length of county commissioner terms rotates to ensure that there is always a member on the board who has experience, said Blaine County Clerk Marsha Reimann.

This year’s primary election is May 25, and the general election is Nov. 2.

Mix ran uncontested in 2000. She recently said she has energy left and plans to seek another term. She said she is excited to work on a number of ongoing issues that are important to Blaine County: affordable housing and airport issues among them.

Mix was first elected to the commission in 1997 and has served three terms, including one four-year term, when she was the commission’s chair. Her political resume also includes two years on the Hailey Planning and Zoning Commission and 13 years on the Hailey City Council.

"It’s a very exciting job, but it’s also a whole lot of work," she said. "There are a whole lot of issues that come before you. We try to be proactive."

Bowman was appointed to the Blaine County Planning and Zoning Commission in 1991 and served until 2001. He was the commission’s chair for three years.

"There are so many things I want to get working on," he said. "With the tremendous growth the county is experiencing, we need a vision and a plan for the future, not just a short-range focus on day-to-day details."

Bowman said more county-wide collaborative planning is needed.

"Eventually, we have to broaden our sights and view ourselves in terms of the region in which we live," he said.

Femling, 47, is entering his fifth election cycle and is no newcomer to political races.

"I’ve been here before, and I look forward to getting our campaign up and running," Femling said.

Only in 1992 was Femling re-elected unopposed.

So far, the sheriff is selling his 24 years as a police officer as his major card in the race.

"I see some critical issues in store for the sheriff in the next four years," he said. "They are going to take some real experience and leadership to get through."

Gunter, 43, said he considered running for sheriff in the last election but decided he first needed to accumulate more experience.

He began working for the Hailey Police Department in 1990. Then, after a two-year stint serving the city of Bellevue as marshall and city administrator in the late-1990s, he returned to the Hailey force as a sergeant in 2000.

"I am running because I believe the next few years are critical for the law enforcement community and the Wood River Valley," Gunter said. "There are huge tax dollars at stake. I want to ensure that our tax dollars are used wisely and efficiently, and that all options are explored."

England, 28, said he believes he has as much, if not more, experience than Femling was first appointed sheriff in 1987.

"Under Femling’s leadership, the Sheriff’s Office has seemed to stall. I’m not saying that Femling is necessarily running the Sheriff’s Office in a negative way, it’s just that Femling is well past the point of maximum effectiveness.

"I have many great ideas for our community, and I am very motivated to take the Blaine County Sheriff’s Office in a new and positive direction."

Honorably discharged from the U.S. Navy in 1997, England started his career as a patrol officer with the Bellevue Marshal’s Office. He has been with the Hailey Police Department since February 2001.

In addition to working as a patrol officer in the department, England works both as a field training officer and school resource officer.


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